4.178 1988 Burger

Cycle 4 – Item 178

2 (Tue) July 2013

1988 Burger


at McDonald’s


-Seongsu, Seongdong, Seoul, Republic of Korea-


The 1988 Burger is a new McDonald’s product.  Launched to celebrate the company’s 25th anniversary (see also 4.171 1955 Burger), it’ll be available only for the month of July.  It consists of two beef patties + slice of cheese + lettuce + mayo + some kind of spicy sauce + sesame seed bun.   5,500 for the set, 4,200 for just the sandwich.

The sauce, which is presumably supposed to resemble gochujang, delivered a slight kick but didn’t really taste like anything.  Otherwise, the burger was pretty straightforward, similar to a McDouble.

When McDonald’s Korea first opened for business in the spring of 1988, it was a big deal.  Attended by throngs of customers, executives, and journalists, the grand opening was the lead story on all the TV news programs that evening, front page headlines in the following morning’s newspapers.  Everyone seemed to take it as a sign of global recognition that the country was finally wealthy/worldly enough, worthy of having a McDonald’s; by comparison, the Seoul Summer Olympics a couple months later seemed like an afterthought.  Korea already had Burger King, Wendy’s, and Hardee’s at the time, but those just didn’t convey the same cachet, apparently.

At the time, I was a freshman at Seoul International School here, so I remember all the hype.  As a Korean-American living in a country that didn’t yet have all the Made in USA cultural/commercial touchstones that make life so familiar/comfortable for the expat community today, I was excited myself.  I waited in line for over an hour to get a Big Mac, which were limited to 2 per customer.

In 1988, McDonald’s prices were considered astronomical by local standards.  If memory serves, the Big Mac set with fries and drink was about 3,000 won, maybe a little more.  By contrast, a typical rice + soup + side dish meal at an ordinary restaurant ran about 1,000 won, give or take a couple hundred.  After school, my friends and I could get an order of street food for 300-500 won.  So, a meal at McDonald’s was quite the special occasion.  Since then, of course, McDonald’s prices have plateaued around 5,000 won for a set, even cheaper at lunchtime, whereas the typical Korean meal is now close to 8,000 won on average.

Not surprisingly, that first restaurant was located in Sinsa-Dong, the heart of Gangnam, the symbol of affluent living.  Most of the customers seemed to be yuppy types, young and well-off, couples on dates.  As fashion back then tended towards the formal, particularly among those with the means to hang out in Gangnam – nobody who was anybody would deign to wear cotton (i.e., no jeans/tshirts/sneakers)- most of the guys were decked out in double-breasted suits and ties while the chicks were dolled up in miniskirts and high heels.  Strange cross-cultural juxtaposition.

(See also FAST FOOD)



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